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What is Cervical Spinal Stenosis?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Cervical spinal stenosis is a condition marked by a spinal canal that is becoming narrower. It affects the upper portion of a person’s spine. Eventually, this narrowing of the cervical spine begins to affect the spinal cord, compressing it or pinching it as well as nearby nerves.

Often, this condition is seen in people who are over 50 years old, and it is frequently caused by normal wear on a person’s spine as he grows older. However, there are some people who are born with narrowed spinal canals. Some of the people who are diagnosed with this condition have experienced an injury or some sort of damage that affects the neck. Interestingly, however, the injury may happen long before the person begins to notice stenosis symptoms. In fact, it can take years for it to develop.

An X-ray of the neck, including the cervical vertebrae.
An X-ray of the neck, including the cervical vertebrae.

Unfortunately, cervical spinal stenosis is typically accompanied by pain in the neck area and upper back, which can vary in severity. Some people also experience pain in their shoulders and extremities. In addition, this condition may cause weakness in this part of the body, clumsiness, and trouble with balancing and walking normally. Many with this condition experience burning and/or tingling sensations, often referred to as pins and needles, in one or more extremity. In rare and very severe cases, cervical stenosis may contribute to the loss of bladder and bowel control, impaired physical function, and even paralysis of the lower part of the body.

A cervical collar may be used in treatment for cervical spinal stenosis to help keep the neck stable.
A cervical collar may be used in treatment for cervical spinal stenosis to help keep the neck stable.

Treatment of cervical spinal stenosis often includes pain medications as well as medicines designed to reduce inflammation. When the nerves are involved, cervical collars may be used to keep the neck stable, and the patient may have to reduce his activities. In many cases, such physical changes are only required for the short term. Some patients may also benefit from physical therapy, which may help by strengthening the neck and increasing flexibility.

Cervical spinal stenosis often causes spinal cord compression.
Cervical spinal stenosis often causes spinal cord compression.

Some patients do not experience adequate relief of symptoms with pain medication and physical therapy, and a doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery for cervical spinal stenosis is aimed at widening the spinal canal and reducing the pressure on the patient’s spinal cord. This may be accomplished by removing part of the surface of the vertebrae, making additional space for the spinal cord. Sometimes deteriorating discs are removed, and in some cases, the portion of the spinal canal that allows the nerves to leave the spinal canal has to be enlarged. For some patients, it is even necessary to take a small portion of bone from another part of the body and fuse it onto an area of the spine.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a WiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

Learn more...
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a WiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

Learn more...

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    • An X-ray of the neck, including the cervical vertebrae.
      An X-ray of the neck, including the cervical vertebrae.
    • A cervical collar may be used in treatment for cervical spinal stenosis to help keep the neck stable.
      By: STOLBTSOV ALEXANDRE
      A cervical collar may be used in treatment for cervical spinal stenosis to help keep the neck stable.
    • Cervical spinal stenosis often causes spinal cord compression.
      By: Kirsty Pargeter
      Cervical spinal stenosis often causes spinal cord compression.
    • Pain in the upper back and neck is common with cervical spinal stenosis.
      By: Paul Hakimata
      Pain in the upper back and neck is common with cervical spinal stenosis.